Normally, when one reads a critic’s review, it’s accompanied by one of four standard rating devices:
Stars: Either a 4, 5, or 10 star system.
Numeric Ratings: 0 or 1 to 5 or 10.
Letter Grades: A to F. Sometimes with + or – suffixes available.
There is no qualitative difference at all between these systems. They’re all thermometer scales with the same (or very nearly the same, depending on the critic) number of stops along the way, and they’re “one size fits all” systems. There’s also an implied breakdown in each system into just three categories: Good, Okay, Bad. Which brings us to the fourth system:
Binary: Yes/no. Thumbs up/down. Smile/frown. You get the picture.
This is about as basic as it gets, and the critics who use this kind of system don’t even allow for a middle ground.
If you’ve visited my site at DoomCheez.com, you’ll notice that I don’t use any of these systems. Instead, I pair the stuff I review with cheese and alcohol, and even then, the pairings don’t always carry the same symbolism from review to review. However, I do think that they’re a much better representation of the actual experience provided by a given show.
I used to use a numeric scale on my older sites, but it always bothered me. For one thing, I think that people put too much stock in the quickest thing they see: often, people will see that a critic gave a movie four stars or a thumbs down or whatever and not bother reading the review. This is something that I wanted to avoid. After all, I spend hours writing these things, and I’d really appreciate it if that effort was rewarded with a read. But more importantly, when I write a review, I make sure to explain why I feel a certain way about whatever it is I’m reviewing, which is something that absolutely cannot be conveyed by a number or a thumb or line of stars. Not all movies that rate a critical 1/10 are wastes of time, just as there are some 10/10 movies that I never, ever want to see again. No matter how I went about coming up with the numbers, the numbers would rarely tell the whole truth.
Here are two standout examples.
On the high number side we have The Shawshank Redemption, which sits near or at the top of roughly a zillion internet critics’ lists. On a critical level, I have to agree that it’s an excellent film. It is very well acted, the screenplay is excellent and very well adapted from its source material, and the direction is powerful. Giving a movie like this anything less than a 9/10 would be an injustice, and anything other than a 10/10, realistically, would be nitpicking. When I reviewed it for my old site, it got the high number that almost any film professor would say it deserves, and which the effort of the people involved certainly warrants. Nothing else would have been appropriate.
Except that I don’t like that movie and never want to see it again. Despite all of its artistic merit and the truly outstanding work done by the cast and crew, I don’t find it entertaining in the least. And so the number lied.
Pair it with a high quality but aromatic cheese and bitter alcohol, and that’s more like the truth, whether or not one actually finds the film entertaining… and it also presents the reader with much more incentive to read the whole review and find out why.
On the low side, we have something like Gymkata, which is generally regarded as the worst martial arts flick ever made. By any objective critical standard, it stinks. Kurt Thomas has no business pretending to be an action hero, and the story is the very definition of absurdity. No self-respecting critic could look at this train wreck and call it at higher than a 2/10; really, without a mulligan, it deserves a 1/10.
Except that for people who love the genre, this movie is so horrible that it comes out the other side as a must-see classic of truly epic proportions. I want everyone to see this movie. Again, a number tells a lie.
But pair it with Cheez Whiz and cheap beer, and whether or not one is the type of person who recognizes crap as art, that pairing tells a very definitive truth. And yes, and it also presents the reader with much more incentive to read the whole review.
And that, my friends, is why I stopped doing numeric ratings. Numbers, stars, and thumbs just don’t tell a true story. Not one worth putting stock in, anyway.
Having my own gimmick is nice, too, of course. Care for some Cheddar and an Anchor Steam?